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Proposal for another study on Hong Kong waterfront draws ire of advisers after their earlier suggestions were ‘discarded’

Many members of Harbourfront Commission told officials they had already spent six years studying better management of famed waterfront and their ideas had been ignored

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 June, 2018, 4:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 5:31pm

Harbourfront advisers in Hong Kong have slammed a government proposal to study management of the city’s promenade, saying they already gave their views after a long inquiry on the same subject, and the government ignored them.

Many members of the Harbourfront Commission, which advises officials on development, told a meeting they had already spent six years studying better management of the city’s scenic 73km waterfront, concluding that a statutory authority was needed to centralise responsibilities for related matters.

They also expressed disappointment that their efforts were essentially ignored by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who in a U-turn last October said she did not intend to set up the planned HK$10 billion (US$1.28 billion) harbourfront authority.

The members’ anger was sparked when Rosalind Cheung Man-yee, the Development Bureau’s principal assistant secretary for the harbour, introduced a plan to use some of a HK$500 million fund earmarked for harbourfront enhancement to conduct a two-year study exploring various management models for different areas, including cooperating with district-based non-governmental groups and private companies, referencing overseas examples.

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Members’ opposition to the study took officials by surprise.

Commission member Vincent Ng Wing-shun, a leading architect, said he was “confused” about what the study would lead to.

Ng said that in 2008 the commission set up a task force on management and maintenance which spent three years looking at suitable models and drew references from overseas examples, including visiting places such as Sydney, Singapore, Liverpool, London, Vancouver and San Francisco to learn from their experiences.

In 2011, he said, the commission suggested the establishment of the harbourfront authority and in 2013 and 2014 consulted the public on the proposal.

“We had been studying it for six years but the government ended up discarding our suggestion,” Ng said. “If we now study again … I don’t know what exactly we want to achieve in the end.

“I put a very big question mark on that.”

Several other commission members, including former Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport president Leung Kong-yui, Southern District Council member Paul Zimmerman, and Margaret Brooke, chief executive of consultancy Professional Property Services, raised similar concerns.

Commission chairman Nicholas Brooke urged officials to review the plan.

“I sense it’s going to be difficult for this commission to endorse this study, if they believe the right way forward is the harbourfront authority,” Brooke said.

“How can we support something which we don’t think is necessarily the right answer?”

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Harbourfront projects are managed by various government bodies with advice from the commission. Former chief executive Leung Chun-ying raised the idea of having a powerful, one-stop harbour authority in his 2013 policy address.

The matter dragged on as uncertainty loomed over whether the public and Legislative Council would throw their support behind funding for the authority, which would require HK$10.2 billion to set up, with the money being allocated towards developing eight sites at the outset.

In January last year, Leung instead proposed establishing an office under the Development Bureau with HK$500 million funding.

In her maiden policy address, Lam, who took over as chief executive in July last year and had a campaign pledge to press ahead with the establishment of the authority, changed her mind and proposed having more district-based bodies oversee parts of the waterfront.

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Permanent Secretary for Development Bernadette Linn Hon-ho told the meeting that the government had thought the commission had endorsed the study in earlier discussions on the HK$500 million fund as it was brought up as one of six projects covered by the money.

“But if members have second thoughts, we are prepared to review,” Linn said.

She added officials had an open mind on members’ opinions regarding lengthy studies years ago and would review the scope of the proposed study and even the need for it.